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DFA agrees to replace pawned passports – but only in Manila

22 January 2019

Replacement passports will only be issued by DFA in Manila

By Daisy CL Mandap

Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong whose passports were seized by police in raids on loan sharks over the past few months may now be able to get replacements, but only if they apply personally at the Department of Foreign Affairs office in Manila.

This was disclosed on Jan. 20 by Consul Paul Saret, head of the Consulate’s assistance to nationals section, when asked about complaints that the Hong Kong applicants had all been  turned away at the DFA.

“Ok na, the DFA has started issuing them new passports last week,” said Consul Saret.

But he added applicants can only secure them by queuing up at the OFW lane of the Office of Consular Affairs (OCA) in the Mall of Asia on Roxas Boulevard.  There, they will be asked to sign a declaration that they will not hock their passport again or risk forfeiting the right to get a new travel document in future.
Consul Paul Saret

Saret said the rule applies even if the OFWs live in far-flung areas in the Philippines.

“We’ll just advise them to fly to Manila first to apply for the passport, then pass by again on their way back to Hong Kong on the date of release.”

Based on a report made to them in one case, Saret said the processing of the replacement passport will take a week. He said the applicant who does not have time to pick it up can ask for courier delivery service, or issue a special power of attorney in favor of the designated representative.

He explained that the confusion arose after the Consulate asked the DFA to decide on whether OFWs who had pawned their passports to secure loans should be issued new ones. But it turned out the DFA didn’t want to act on the applications without a prior go-signal from the Consulate.

The two sides eventually reached agreement that new passports can be issued to the applicants, once they sign an undertaking that they will not pawn their personal documents again.

As a result of this policy, at least five OFWs who had to go back to the Philippines after renewing their contracts had complained about being given the run-around at the DFA.

According to Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre, the OFWs feared losing their jobs because they didn’t have passports and could not fly back on time to their jobs in Hong Kong.

The workers were issued one-way travel documents by the Consulate so they could process their new work contracts and go home. But going back became a problem.

The Consulate’s tough stance was adopted because of the recurring problem of OFWs losing their passports to loan sharks.

In the most recent case, 300 Philippine passports were seized by the police from a local man in North Point who was found to have lent money to migrant workers at 125% interest, and secured the loans with passports and employment contracts.

Many of the borrowers in these cases would often declare that they simply lost their passports, so the Consulate resorted to requiring them to make an affidavit of loss with the police, before applying for a new one. The idea was to make it more difficult for them to acquire new passports so they would stop using their documents as collaterals for loans.

But when even this failed the Consulate decided to turn away those who lost their document in the police raids, and told them to apply for new passports directly with the DFA in Manila.

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